Essay #8: 40 Days and 40 Nights

I am a shitty Catholic. The shittiest of the shitty.

I’m a liberal Democrat. I ask questions. Lots of questions. Subversive questions.

I work for the Church as a musician, but I hate the organization. I feel it’s run poorly. I was a Human Resources professional for almost 10 years. I know from poorly run institutions, and the Church is one of them. It’s archaic. It’s broken from a business perspective. The failed collaborations and the inability to recruit good talent makes the organization a hot mess.

I’m appalled by the pedophilia scandal. I’ve been touched tangentially by that scandal. The movie “Spotlight” hits close to home.

I love the current Pope, unlike some of my blindly conservative colleagues. I love the idea of mercy, charity, and forgiveness and I ignore the dogmatic and the doctrinal. I don’t know my ass from my elbow in terms of Catholic liturgy.

I have a vague spiritual life, amorphous and hazy. It’s in there… somewhere.

I hate the fact that women don’t have seats at the Catholic clerical table in the way the women in the Protestant denominations do. I don’t think that a woman’s health, body, tone, or profession should be policed by the men who surround her.

I believe in birth control. I tried to do IVF (ie interfering with “God’s plan”) to have a kid; no dice.

I believe that what happens in your bedroom is your own damn business. I fully support same-sex marriage and my heart aches for the church musicians and employees who are forced keep their identities under wraps to keep their jobs.

I married an atheist. I married an atheist with pride, because I believe that our marriage represents the ability to cross great ideological gaps in the modern world. Our union should be a microcosm of the bridges being built between people of all faith groups. That’s the foundation of respect and peace.

I feel that priests and nuns should be able to marry. The church would be healthier for it, and it would be much easier to call people into vocations.

I swear like a sailor when the occasion (or comedic opportunity) calls for it and enjoy it.

For all of this, I’m a hypocrite.

I’m also a modern, independent, critical thinking woman who lives in New England.

I am in the world and aware of the bigger picture.

I’m forward thinking and a pragmatist. A pragmatist would see that the Church is dying and would want to fix it. I’m not sure if I have the energy to do it.

I go to church every week – multiple times a week – to sing.

I believe in my vocation as a singer, and I believe that the art and spirituality of singing predates the church.

My secular calling is to bring an emotional layer to the liturgical celebration that is beyond words and ritual. I’m there to comfort families with the sound and resonance of my voice.

I’m an artist. I am a minister in my own right.

The singing piece is not hypocritical. It’s my gift. I’m not hiding my light under a bushel. I’m shining brightly and using my talents for the Forces of Good ™.

I am a Catholic because those are the tools my parents gave me.

I am a Catholic because I believe in faith, hope, love, and charity.

I am a Catholic, because I believe that my actions are more important than the cheap talk and the adherence to tradition and habits.

I am a Catholic because I’m an Irish American. I speak the language of Catholicism.

I’m a Catholic because I admire Mary and the saints. I’m no statue worshiper, but I believe in their stories, their virtues, and their intercession.

I’m a Catholic, because it gives me a moral reference point and a structure through which I can see and evaluate the world.

I’m a Catholic, because it’s given me a vaccination against all other cults. We were the original cult, after all. I’m a Catholic for the beauty of the ritual and the solemnity of the celebration.

I’m a Catholic because I believe in sacrifice, a monastic work ethic, scholarship, and intellectual inquiry. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, science tells us as much about what we don’t know as it does about what we do know.

I’m a Catholic because I give until I can’t give anymore. I’d turn myself inside out for the rest of humanity. I’m Catholic because I see the value of suffering, the compassion it creates. I want to care for others in the way that I’d want to be cared for myself. The Golden Rule resonates.

I’m a Catholic because I want to take care of the voiceless and the defenseless. I want all people to be treated with dignity and respect.

I’m a Catholic because I suck at being a Catholic. That’s the whole point. We’re trying to get better at this being a human thing.

So I’m trying to do the Catholic thing and figure out what to do for the 40 days of Lent. Last year, I decided that I was going to go to confession as many times as possible during Lent. I think I freaked the priests out, because it had been ages since I had gone. I had giant lists of stuff that went wrong that poured out of me. They were letting out a Yosemite Sam “Whoa, hoss!” in the beginning. By the end of Lent, the priests seemed impressed with my piety. I laughed at this. “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been 5 minutes since my last confession…”

Confession is one of the coolest things about Catholicism. If I’m looking at life through my filter – the shitty Catholic one – I see “sin” as turning away from love and nothing more. There should be no self-flagellation. Guilt doesn’t serve you when there’s good work to be done. However, how often does one get a chance to sit down and to articulate all the ways that you could have turned toward love? How often does a person make themselves accountable to their own actions in a formal way?

In figuring out how you fuck up, you also figure out how to do better. It’s empowering. The priest is a witness to the dialogue between me and my better self. He’s there to heal the divide. The sacrament is intrinsically Catholic – I don’t think any of the other Christian denominations have it? – and I think that sort of examination of conscience is crucial to fulfill whatever spiritual purpose calls you and to be a better person.

This year, I’m going to try to address the amorphous blob above – the life of prayer and meditation. Not only does my bipolar psyche need the rest and quiet, but I think I need to get a better handle on my interior life. I’m developing daily touch points for myself – finding ways to connect with the spiritual on a regular basis and tracking them in Evernote. I’ll be setting alarms on my phone and using meal times as milestones. It’s going to be totally goofy, but it will be worth it if it gives me a better relationship with the Eileen within. Not Eileen the caretaker, not Eileen the performer, not Eileen the peacemaker – Eileen as she is.

In the pursuit of this, I see no hypocrisy. I’m a shitty Catholic. I’m proud of my complexity and my efforts to do better in the world.

Wish me luck.

 

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